Hereditary stars Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, and Milly Shapiro, and was the directorial debut of Ari Aster. It tells the story of the Graham family who, after suffering a family tragedy, find themselves experiencing progressively more unsettling occurrences in the midst of their grief. Hereditary is a bit of a slow burn, but don’t let that discourage you. When it finally catches, that fire is unpredictable and out of control in the best kinda way.
The first time I saw it, I went into this film expecting a strange, yet scary experience. Of course I’d been hearing the hype about it and the proclamations that it’s the scariest movie of the year/decade/century. Hype is hype though, so I wasn’t actually expecting that, but the trailer was legitimately creepy and unnerving, so I still had some hopes for this one. I have to admit that I don’t have the best relationship with A24.
There have certainly been a handful of exceptions, but I’ve found the majority of their output to be underwhelming or downright terrible. I know I’m definitely in the minority here, but some of their recent horror fare (particularly the VVitch) has been pretty disappointing to me. So, I was initially a little hesitant about Hereditary. That trailer had really intrigued me, but I kept my excitement and expectations tempered. As a result, I wasn’t really surprised by the slow start. It was a touch unsettling, but mostly a grief-fueled drama that wasn’t overly engaging.
I had mentally settled myself in for another lackluster A24 film at that point, but then the first spark of that slow burn erupted into a momentary fireball. About thirty minutes in, one event occurred that truly shocked me and gave me some hope that the movie wasn’t gonna be the slog that I anticipated. From there, the psychological horror aspects began to take over. Yes, there was some additional grief-driven drama, but that slow burn was picking up into a smoking smolder.
It wasn’t long until that fire grew again, adding new and unexpected genre elements to the film and, by the end, the movie was tonally almost unrecognizable compared to what it had been only two hours before. It’s wild, it’s strange, but it works. Although the ending almost seems to come out of nowhere, there are continuous hints dropped from the very beginning that all tie together with the narrative in a cerebrally satisfying way.
The craziness at the end is actually earned. Your perception of this film’s scariness is gonna almost entirely depend on the circumstances of your first watch. If you’re alone or with a small group, then I can see how this could be a legitimately scary or chilling film. Hereditary wasn’t that for me, though. I certainly found it to be fairly tense and it definitely has moments of creepiness, but I was never actually frightened by it. And, I can’t help but wonder if it was cause of the crowd I saw it with.
I saw this in a packed theater. For the first half of the movie, people were mostly very quiet (aside from a few original people who decided to cluck their tongues a few times). There were some surprised and horrified outbursts at the catalyzing event that occurs at the thirty minute mark, but even after that, things returned to a quiet state in the theater. But then something changed: people started laughing. There were definitely some moments of uncomfortable laughter during some dramatic scenes, but I have to say, much of the laughter was legitimate and warranted.
This film has some seriously comedic underpinnings to its horror. It isn’t exactly played for laughs at any point, but the dark humor is definitely there. There’s quite a bit of situational humor involving Annie, particularly regarding her reactions. Her responses during the first seance scene elicited quite a bit of laughter, as did the water-in-the-face scene a little bit later in the film.
The character of Steve also had a number of very sarcastically funny lines and his facial expressions to much of what Annie does and says throughout the film are humorous in a relatable and understandable way. The final ten minutes of the film was met with uproarious laughter in my theater. Some was likely scared or nervous laughter, some was probably juvenile sarcastic laughter, but most of it seemed genuine.
There was even a group of three people who, unable to control their laughter, literally ran out of the theater with a few minutes remaining, presumably so as not to disturb the rest of us too much. I’m convinced that quite a bit of the perceived humor in this film was intentional. I’m sure plenty of people will argue against that assertion and say my theater was just full of incredibly rude people, but I stand by it. Aside from the cluckers, nobody’s reactions felt unwarranted. With a quiet theater, the ending certainly would’ve been more tense and unnerving that first time around, but I can’t help but believe I still would’ve been smiling to myself at the ridiculousness of some of it. And, I’m honestly glad about that humor and laughter.
Intentional or not, it takes what begins as a grief-stricken drama and turns it into an interesting, thought-provoking, and thoroughly entertaining creepy film. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is definitely the characters. Our focal family here is incredibly characterized and crafted.
They truly feel like a real family which makes the events of the film even more impactful and heartbreaking. All four family members bring something different to the table and contribute to the overarching theme of grief in their own way. We’ve got the source of the grief, the character overcome by guilt, the skeptic, and the character who can’t accept what’s happened. Unlike Ari Aster’s second film, Midsommar, none of these main characters are unlikable.
Their responses and reactions are completely understandable and you really feel for all of them. The second pro is the story. I know that’s a bit broad, but I really find the plot of this movie interesting. Even on rewatch, knowing where this movie goes, I was still just as riveted by it as I was the first time. It’s unexpected at points and takes a few crazy left turns, but the overall story is oddly satisfying and incredibly compelling, mixing its family drama with something a bit more sinister. Pro number three has gotta be the attention to detail.
This has become a signature aspect of Ari Aster’s work, but the background, costumes, and even staging all have very specific and intended purposes. There’s so much foreshadowing, but it’s hidden in plain sight and much of it isn’t apparent until you rewatch the movie. I love that kinda thing in a movie and it really makes revisiting the film a rewarding experience. As far as cons go, my issues with this movie are really minor.
The first is that it’s just a really draining, emotionally taxing movie. It’s a necessary thing for the story and one of the most fascinating aspects of the film. It just means this isn’t the type of horror film you throw on at any time. With its grief-intensive themes and raw, emotional performances, you’ve really gotta be in the right mood for this movie.
The second minor con is the weirdness. Like I said, this movie has some very unexpected turns that come out of left field. It was something that I really appreciated the first time I saw the film (and still like now), but I can really see how this could be a frustrating turn-off for some viewers who don’t like dramatic tonal shifts in their movies. I’m gonna give Hereditary 4 out of 5 paws… and a high 4 at that. I love the story and the wide-ranging development of the characters.
It’s just not a movie that I’d want to watch all the time, due to its emotional heaviness. I would recommend Hereditary to fans of psychological horror. This is a very dark and distressing movie with a good deal of weirdness, but the way it all comes together is fantastic. If you like horror movies where you actually care about the characters, this one is gonna have a lot to offer you. If you liked Hereditary, I would definitely recommend Ari Aster’s second film: Midsommar.
The story’s quite different, but it’s another thematically-heavy psychological drama wrapped up in the clothes of a horror movie. If you liked the exploration of grief in a horror film, I have to recommend The Babadook for another emotionally taxing, thematically-heavy horror experience. And if you liked the family drama of this film and some of the later plot shifts, you should check out Rosemary’s Baby for another unsettling drama horror. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen Hereditary? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What horror movie features the most unexpected and shocking scene for you? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.